A PIL (Public Interest Litigation) seeking to free Hindu temples from government control was filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay through senior counsels Arvind Datar and Gopal Sankaranarayanan. The petition sought equal rights for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to establish, manage, and maintain their religious places just as Christians, Muslims, and Parsis.
The PIL highlights that of the 9,00,000 temples 4,00,000 are controlled by the government but no church or mosque is under government control or administration. Religious endowments fall under the concurrent list, and the Centre and states can enact legislation.
Datar cited the Tamil Nadu statute which allows the government to use temple hundi collections. The government uses 14% of this as administrative costs, 4% as audit fees, and between 4 and 10% as the ‘Commissioner Common Good Fund.’ These funds are also allocated for several government-run schemes. Similar laws have been enacted in other states such as Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. He was also against temple funds being used for non-religious and administrative purposes. Sankaranarayanan added that 50000 temples in Karnataka were closed down due to a lack of funds.
The Indian Express quotes Justice Ravindra Bhat as saying:
You are virtually rolling the clock back because all these temples and centres of religion had become places of wealth. Some of them, like Sringeri, etc, gave it up voluntarily. Now if we are to roll back, that’s exactly the point we will reach.
There has to be some framework where, obviously, everything will not be used by the centre or that religion but will go back to the people.
This could be a debate. After all, if it is a seat of the temple, it is by the people. So it has to go back to people in some form. So the town of Tirupati benefitted. You have universities, a whole range of services…which have come up…
…The wealth that is generated, nobody is there to regulate…no law to account to. Nobody to audit this, and you will be [the] centres of power in your own way.
You can’t compare (the case of temples) with the other religions. They may have their own systems of checks and balances — I don’t know that — but the scale (in the case of temples) definitely is different.
The double-face of a section of the judiciary is apparent yet again in this case. While the judiciary wants other religions to have their own systems of checks and balances, it wants Hindu temples to follow colonial-era laws. The Supreme Court also overturned the Karnataka HC order allowing Ganesh Chaturthi festival celebration at a Bengaluru public ground which the Muslim Waqf Board claims is an ‘Idgah maidan’ owned by it.
The Madras HC has passed numerous ridiculous orders in recent times. A Madras HC judge remarked closing temples leads to peace. In another ruling, a Hindu petitioner was asked to obtain consent from the local jamaat before installing a Ganesh pandal.
The petition was heard by a two-judge bench comprising Justice S Ravindra Bhat and CJI UU Lalit. The court posted the case for further hearing on September 19.